The luminous Theodore Dalrymple:
The secularization of Europe is hardly a secret. Religion’s long, melancholy, withdrawing roar, as Matthew Arnold put it, is a roar no longer, and hardly even a murmur. In France, the oldest daughter of the Church, fewer than 5 percent of the population attend Mass regularly. The English national church has long been an object of derision, and the current Archbishop of Canterbury succeeds in uniting the substance and appearance of foolishness and unworldliness not with sanctity, but with sanctimony. In Wales, where nonconformist Christianity was the dominant cultural influence, most of the chapels have been converted into residences by interior decorators. Vast outpourings of pietistic writings molder on the shelves of secondhand booksellers, which themselves are closing down daily. In the Netherlands, some elements of the religious pillarization of the state remain: state-funded television channels are still allotted to Protestants and Catholics respectively. But while the shell exists, the substance is gone.
Perhaps it is Ireland that offers the most startling example of secularization because it was a late starter. Late starters, however, are often apt pupils; they catch up fast and even surpass their mentors. When I first went to Ireland, the priest was a god among men; people stood aside to let him pass. No respectable family did not count a nun among its members. As for the Archbishop of Dublin, his word was law; the politicians might propose, but he disposed.
In the historical bat of an eyelid, all that has gone, beyond any hope (or fear) of restoration. It would hardly be too much to say that the Church is now reviled in Ireland. I suspect that if you performed a word-association test using the word “priest,” it would more often than not evoke a response of “pedophile,” “child abuser,” or (at best) “hypocrite.”
The whole article is well worth reading, but I highlighted the above because it provides an outsider’s assessment – Dalrymple is an agnostic – of the state of the institutional church. This is not mere Dawkinesque arrogance and bluster, but considered insight from one of our culture’s keenest observers.
To the outsider, the Anglican church is the home of buffoonery with a leader to suit, and the Catholic church, the home of pederasty. Is it any wonder that neither one can garner much respect amongst unbelievers.